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County Council Says 'No' to Re-opening Jail

County Council Says 'No' to Re-opening Jail

Posted - Jun. 15, 2004 at 5:06 p.m.



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Debbie Dujanovic Reporting"The citizens of Salt Lake County are very law enforcement oriented, and they believe if people violate the law, they should go to jail."

The Salt Lake County Council dropped a bombshell on the Sheriff today. Tonight he goes in search of another fix to his county jail crowding.

Too many inmates, not enough beds. Sheriff Aaron Kennard wants to re-open the old Oxbow Jail in South Salt Lake to make room. Today the Salt Lake County Council refused his request for money. Now he's worried about lawsuits and being held in contempt of court.

The jail has teetered at capacity for weeks now, forcing him to restrict which criminals officers can bring to jail. Today the council shut down his hopes for a solution.

With the Salt Lake County Jail jammed Sheriff Aaron Kennard went in search of a way to keep criminals off the streets.

Sheriff Aaron Kennard: "Believe it or not we have to treat these people in a humane way, and if I don't have them a place to sleep the potential exists for a lawsuit."

To solve the problem he came up with Oxbow Jail. A County Budget crunch forced its closure years ago. Kennard asked for 1.6 million dollars, enough to open 184-beds at Oxbow and fix the inmate crunch.

Today the county council told Kennard "no". Without enough bed space, Kennard fears he'll be forced to take drastic measures, turning away criminals sentenced to jail -- a move he knows is risky.

Sheriff Aaaron Kennard: "Now is a judge going to hold me in contempt of court. I don't want to go spend time in my own jail, I don't want council members or the mayor in jail because they've refused to obey the lawful order of a judge."

But Salt Lake County's nine member council doesn't see the jail woes the same way. Instead of more bed space, they want to consider alternatives, including limiting jail beds for cities that use the County Jail, also work release and electronic tracking devices, so people who commit minor offenses can do their time outside jail.

Steve Harmsen, Salt Lake County Council: "There are a significant number of people in the jail we feel do not belong in the jail, and by adding new beds, it's a ‘build it they will come’ philosophy."

The council hopes today's unanimous decision not to reopen Oxbow will force a system-wide reform.

Steve Harmsen: "The council feels there are still tools yet left to be used to manage the jail population."

The Sheriff's concern tonight, he needs some immediate solutions to the crowding. Many of these programs take months to implement. The council seems a little more confident that their ideas could free up 150 beds immediately.

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